Papal primacy

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As papal primacy (the or that; Latin prīmatus : precedence, preference), primacy of the pope or Petrusprimat one describes the priority claimed by the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the leader of all Christianity . Since the 3rd century this claim has been traced back to the tradition of the Roman community that the apostle Simon Peter was the first bishop of Rome and suffered martyrdom there ; from this the authority of the Roman cathedra was derived through an uninterrupted apostolic succession . The theoretical and practical form of primacy happened in a centuries-long development, which was among other things the subject of the church divisions of the Oriental Schism and the Reformation . On the Catholic side, this development came to an end with the First Vatican Council in 1870, at which the papal primacy was dogmatically defined as the highest legal authority ( jurisdiction primacy ) and highest teaching authority ( suprema quoque magisterii potestas ; infallibility in teaching decisions ex cathedra ) in the church .

Roman Catholic definition

The First Vatican Council (1869 to 1870) defined the primacy of jurisdiction as follows:

“Anyone who says that the Roman bishop only has the office of supervision or direction and not the full and supreme power of legal authority over the whole church - and not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in matters of order and government belongs to the Church spread over the whole world -; or whoever says that he has only a larger share, but not the entire fullness of this supreme power, or that this power of his is not orderly and immediate, just as over the whole and the individual churches as over the whole and individual shepherds and believers who is locked out."

In Can. 331 of the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1983 the definition is:

“The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom the office entrusted by the Lord only to Peter, the first of the apostles and to be mediated to his successors, continues, is head of the college of bishops, representative of Christ and shepherd of the universal Church here on earth, therefore he has power of his office in the Church over the highest, full, immediate and universal ordinary power, which he can always freely exercise. "

In Can. 1399 shows the comprehensive type of exercise:

“Apart from the cases regulated in this or in other laws, the external violation of a divine or a canonical law can only be punished with a just punishment if the particular gravity of the violation calls for punishment and the need to forestall offenses urges it or fix them. "

New Testament justification

In the middle of the 3rd century , Stephan I was the first Pope to justify the Bishop of Rome's claim to leadership with the so-called "rock word" Mt 16 : 18f  EU :

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of the underworld will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; What you will bind on earth will also be bound in heaven, and what you will loosen on earth will also be loosened in heaven. "

Whether it is a “real” Jesus word is just as controversial as the reference and meaning of the play on words Peter and Petra (“rock”, “stone”). It is often assumed that this word reflects a leadership role of the apostle Peter in the early Jerusalem church . Besides Mt 18.17  EU it is the only place in the Gospels where the word Ekklesia occurs.

Some Protestant authors are of the opinion that Jesus Christ did not refer Petra to a leadership position of Peter, but to his confession of the Messiah , which he had previously expressed , that is, made faith in Jesus Christ the foundation of the church. So he himself is the rock on which it is built. For this, reference is often made to 1 Cor 3:11  EU : “No one can lay any other foundation than that which is laid: Jesus Christ.” Some authors believe that Jesus is not talking about Peter here, but about “revelation”. This is the rock of the church, not the apostle Peter. They refer to Mt 16.17  EU : “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. ”In the following verse 18 Jesus uses a play on words by calling Peter Cephas, which translated means rock. So here Jesus cites the name Peter as a parable in order to then refer to the verse before. Jn 21.15ff  EU is often used to justify the pastoral care of Peter , where Jesus calls on Peter: "Feed my lambs [...] feed my sheep".

Historical development

Early church

In the early days of the church , five patriarchates emerged, corresponding to the Roman administrative structure . The Roman patriarchate covered the entire area of ​​the Western Roman Empire.

The early church granted the Patriarchate of Rome an honorary primacy or "primacy of love" over the other patriarchates - an honorary position in the sense of a primus inter pares ("first among equals"), which, however, neither included a qualitatively higher rank nor the right to to intervene in the internal affairs of other patriarchates without being asked.

The Roman community was generally respected as the community of the capital in the first few centuries. According to tradition, she owned the graves of the "princes of the apostles" Paul and Peter. The Peter promise according to Matthew 16:18 is cited only once in the entire Christian literature of the first centuries: by Tertullian , who refers the passage only to Peter, not to Rome.

The Roman bishop Viktor I (189–199) excommunicated all of Asia Minor because of the Easter date, but was rejected by the other bishops, in particular by Irenaeus of Lyon . In addition, Viktor excommunicated Theodotus of Byzantium for theological reasons and removed the Gnostic priest Florinus from his office; besides, he condemned so-called adoptianism. Viktor thus made use of jurisdiction for other communities several times, so that his claim to primacy is historically documented.

The first Roman bishop to invoke the promise of Peter was Stephen I (254-257) in the dispute with Cyprian of Carthage , but he could not assert himself against Cyprian and the bishops of Alexandria and Caesarea.

A western council in Serdica 343 allowed deposed bishops to appeal to Rome. The decision was issued by Julius I (337–352) as a decision of Nicaea (325), but is nowhere mentioned there. Damasus I (366–384) was the first to interpret the promise of Peter legally in order to establish a monopoly for the Roman Church. De facto, however, his contemporary Ambrosius , the Bishop of Milan, had far more influence in the Church. The successor of Damasus, Siricius (384–399), called his statute " apostolic " and adopted the official style of the imperial chancellery in dealings with the other churches.

The first council of Constantinople in 381 assigned the bishop of New Rome ( Constantinople ) second rank after that of Rome. Boniface I (418–422) forbade further appellations after a decision by Rome and called Rome the apostolicum culmen , the apostolic head. His contemporary Augustine of Hippo , however, knew nothing about Rome's primacy of jurisdiction, for him, as for the rest of the Church at the time, the ecumenical council was the highest authority.

In the Council of Ephesus of 431, the third ecumenical council, Pope Celestine I was named by a three-person Roman delegation as the successor to Peter the head of the apostles, but this was not reflected in the council canons. Leo the Great (440–461) worked out the Roman primacy idea in full, based on Matthew 16:18 and the Roman law of inheritance. In the Council of Chalcedon in 451, however, the patriarchate of Constantinople was given the same primacy as the old imperial capital - Leo, not even present in Chalcedon, did not recognize the council until two years later.

Gregory the Great (590–604) is quoted in the First Vatican Council as the highest and universal Shepherd. In connection with this, however, he wrote to the Patriarch Eulogios of Alexandria: “I did not give orders, but tried to point out what seemed useful to me [...] I do not consider an honor that I know that my brothers are Robs honor. My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the firm strength of my brothers. Then I will be truly honored if each of them is not denied the due honor. “In the first Vatican Council only the part in italics was listed.

middle Ages

As a counter service for the coronation to the Frankish king, Pippin allegedly gave the Pope the exarchate of Ravenna, which had been retaken from the Lombards , and other lands (so-called Pippin donation ): The coronation of a western emperor in the year 800 gave the pope a further gain in prestige and influence on the Frankish "imperial church ".

The only recognized by the Catholic Church, during Photius -Schismas by Pope Nicholas I convened the fourth Council of Constantinople Opel stated in 869: "And can not remain unfulfilled as the saying of our Lord Jesus Christ: 'You are Peter, and on I want to build my church on this rock ', this word proves itself through its effects: for at the Apostolic See the Catholic religion was always preserved intact and the holy doctrine was proclaimed. We never want to be separated from his faith and his teaching, and we hope that we are worthy to live in the one communion that the Holy See proclaims. "

Ten years later, at the all-church council of 879 in Constantinople , also approved by John VIII, the pope's jurisdiction was fully recognized for the West, but clearly rejected for the other patriarchates.

Leo IX and the Oriental Schism

The alienation between the Western-Latin and Eastern-Byzantine churches, which had been emerging for centuries, solidified in 1054 when the papal envoy Humbert von Silva Candida and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I. Kerularios , excommunicated each other and thus ultimately the split in brought about a Catholic and Orthodox Church. In addition to theological disputes such as the so-called azymen controversy , which revolved around the use of leavened or unleavened bread as part of the sacrament of the Eucharist , differing views played out about the scope of the Roman claim to primacy of Leo IX. a crucial role. The importance of the primacy question 1054 as an explanation for the ongoing division of the church should not be overemphasized: From a historical point of view, the sacking of Constantinople by Christian crusaders in 1204 turns out to be a more significant turning point.

Nicholas II (1058-1073) was the first Pope to be crowned with the tiara . Gregory VII (Hildebrand) wrote the Dictatus Papae , 27 tenets on the primacy of the Pope, which he also put  into practice - for example in the investiture dispute (but they remained unknown to the contemporary public). It says:

"I. The Roman Church was founded by the Lord alone.
II. Only the Roman bishop is rightly called universal.
III. His authorized representative is in a council above all bishops, even if he is inferior to them by his ordination, and he can pronounce a deposition formula against them.
IX. The Pope is the only person who all princes kiss on the feet.
X. He is the only one whose name is pronounced in all churches.
XII. He can depose Kaiser.
XVII. No general synod can be pronounced without its consent.
XVIII. His judgment cannot be changed by anyone, and only he can change everyone's judgment.
XIX. It must not be judged by anyone.
XXI. All causae maiores of every church must be presented to him. "

Innocent III. (1198–1216) issued the Bull Venerabilem , which granted the Pope the right to elect kings and also the right to decide whether they were qualified or not. At the fourth Lateran Council he proclaimed that the papal primacy had been recognized by all of antiquity.

The Second Council of Lyon under Gregory X. declared in 1274:

“The Holy Roman Church has the highest and full primacy and dominion over the entire Catholic Church. She is aware in truth and humility that she has received this primacy from the Lord himself - in St. Peter, the prince and head of the apostles, whose successor is the Roman Pope - with the fullness of power. And just as it is obliged to defend the truths of faith above all others , so all questions about faith that arise must also be decided by its judgment. "

Despite pressure from the emperor, the decisions of the council were not recognized in the Eastern Church. Boniface VIII issued the Bull Unam Sanctam in connection with his conflict with Philip IV the Handsome in 1302 . It represented the climax of the papal claim to power and moved the French king to arrest the pope in the same year in order to demonstrate the independence of secular power.

“But this authority, although it is given to a person and exercised by a person, is not human but divine and was given through the Divine Word to Peter himself and in him to his successors, Peter, whom the Lord confirmed as a solid rock as he told him? Whatever you will bind on earth ( Mt 16,19  EU ). Therefore, whoever opposes this power set up by God, opposes God (see Rom. 13.2  EU ). In the following we explain, define and proclaim that it is absolutely a question of the necessity of salvation for every human creature to adhere to the Roman pontiff. ” (Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, definimus et pronuntiamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis.)

The Council of Constance declared in the decree Haec sancta in 1415 that the Council was above the Pope (see Council of Constance ), but at the fifth Lateran Council in 1516, Leo X declared : “The currently existing Roman pontiff, who has authority over all Councils have… “The general validity of this papal council was disputed even then, as it was practically only attended by Italians and curia cardinals.

View of other churches

In the ancient Church, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome was generally recognized, for example in Canon III of the First Council of Nicea or Canon XXXVI of the Council of Trullo . However, this priority was understood to mean the place of honor of a primus inter pares , which did not include any jurisdiction over other patriarchates. That is the attitude of the Orthodox Churches up to the present day. Nicetas, the archbishop of Nicomedia, said in 1154 at a disputation to Anselm von Havelberg :

“We do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at an ecumenical council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office ... How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a church, and the Roman see would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves. "

“We do not deny the Roman Church primacy among the five sister patriarchates, and we recognize their right to the place of honor at an ecumenical council. But she separated herself from us by her deeds when she proudly claimed a monarchy that did not belong to her office [...] How can we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? When the Roman pontiff, sitting on the high throne of his glory, desires to thunder at us and hurl his commands against us from above, when he desires to judge us and rule us and our churches, not by consulting with us, but by his own discretion What kind of brotherhood or even fatherhood can it be? We would be the slaves, not the sons of such a church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons, but a hard, presumptuous mistress of slaves. "

Outside the Roman Catholic Church, Matthew 16: 18f is only referred to the apostle Peter or, in connection with the parallel passage Matt. 18:18  EU , to all apostles, all clerics or all Christians. The doctrine that the Bishop of Rome is the sole legal successor of Peter and therefore “inherits” this leadership function over the entire Church is only represented by the Roman Catholic Church. Some non-Roman Catholic theologians also consider a “Petrine office” in the service of the unity of the churches to be desirable. Primary jurisdiction and absolute power to teach ( infallibility ), as exercised by the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church, are resolutely rejected and viewed as an obstacle to the unity of the churches.

Some Catholics rejected the Pope's primacy and its sole claim to leadership, which was affirmed at the First Vatican Council . They merged and united with the Archdiocese of Utrecht to form the Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches .


New Testament


  • Boris Bobrinskoy (ed.): The primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church. Translated from the French by Matthis Thurneysen. EVZ-Verlag, Zurich 1961 ( Library for Orthodox Theology and Church 1, ZDB -ID 844325-7 ).

Historical editions

  • Johann Friedrich Ludwig Rothensee : The primacy of the Pope in all Christian centuries. Published by Räss und Weis after his death . 3 volumes. Kupferberg, Mainz 1836–1838.
  • J. Frohschammer : The primacy of Peter and the Pope. To illuminate the foundation of the Roman papal rule. Eduard Loll publisher, Elberfeld 1875.


  • Reinhard Gahbauer: Against the primacy of the Pope. Studies on Niketas Seides. Edition, introduction, commentary. Verlag Uni-Druck, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-87821-131-7 (also: Munich, Univ., Diss., 1975).
  • Georg Schwaiger : Papal primacy and authority of the General Councils as reflected in history. Schöningh, Munich et al. 1977, ISBN 3-506-74786-X .
  • Wolfgang Klausnitzer : The primacy of the bishop of Rome. Development - Dogma - Ecumenical Future. Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 2004, ISBN 3-451-28513-4 .
  • Marcus Schumacher: The primacy of the Pope. The crisis of primacy in the age of schism and conciliarism. Grin Verlag, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-638-79540-1 .
  • Andreas Weckwerth: Primacy and collegiality: the Roman bishop and his synods in the 1st millennium. In: Roman quarterly for Christian antiquity and church history (110/2), 2015, pp. 175–199.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Primat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Single receipts

  1. Quoted from: Imperious Mistress? An Orthodox archbishop on the Catholic pope. In: Christianity Today . April 1, 1997, archived from the original on December 26, 2005 ; accessed on November 1, 2016 .
  2. Manfred Kock: The papacy from a Protestant perspective. Lecture at the Karl Rahner Academy in Cologne. In: September 4, 2001, archived from the original on May 6, 2019 ; accessed on September 11, 2019 .